After months of debate, West Richland’s city council voted 4-3 Tuesday night to permanently ban recreational marijuana businesses from setting up shop inside city limits.
Council members Richard Bloom, Rich Buel, Byron Martin and Tony Benegas supported the ban. Gail Brown, Ron Hayden and Robert Perkes voted against it.
West Richland’s decision followed similar moves by Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, which have all banned recreational marijuana businesses.
Tuesday’s vote followed a short public hearing where community members made their final pitches to sway the council. The meeting drew about a dozen audience members — much fewer than previous meetings where recreational marijuana was discussed. As with earlier meetings and public hearings, the speakers were largely supportive of the ban.
“We’ve come down a very long, tiresome, arduous path to get where we are tonight,” Dan Richey told the council, speaking in support of the ban. He continued, “What I would encourage you to do ... is just stay the course and keep the rudder locked.”
State Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, also spoke in favor of the ban. Klippert cited his experience in law enforcement as having provided him with perspective on how dangerous marijuana can be to youth and communities.
“I would like to encourage you to pass this ban,” he told the council.
Several council members spoke before the group voted. Benegas said he based his vote on the will of his constituents. About 64 percent of West Richland voters cast ballots against Initiative 502 two years ago, and residents have been vocal in their support of a ban.
“What speaks loudest to me is that you’re my boss,” Benegas told the audience before voting.
Hayden said he’s never smoked marijuana, but was offered it as early as middle school, throughout high school and into his military service. Marijuana has a presence in the community that won’t go away and should instead be addressed and regulated, he said.
“A ban in our community is not going to accomplish anything,” Hayden said. “It’s like sticking your head in the sand.”
He added: “I’m not suggesting it’s a good thing, but we need to deal with it.”
The ordinance effectively bans recreational marijuana businesses from West Richland by amending the rules regarding the city’s zoning districts.
West Richland had a six-month moratorium in place to stop recreational pot businesses from opening in the city, but that moratorium was superseded by Tuesday night’s vote. The six-month moratorium was to expire April 1. Private consumption of marijuana will not be affected by the newly approved ordinance.
The city’s planning commission recommended in October that the matter be addressed in February so city officials could monitor state legislative updates and legal cases in other cities before voting on a ban. The city council decided Nov. 4 not to wait and instead move forward with Tuesday night’s vote.
The ban could potentially be reconsidered. A council member could request a majority vote to revisit the ordinance. From there, it could be appealed or reshaped.